Monday, July 06, 2009

Light of Other Days read

Rather than review this book formally, now that I've read it, I'll just ramble on various thoughts I have until they become coherent to me.

Arthur Clarke and co-author, more than a novel, seem to have sketched a kind of Utopian vision - where technology and circumstance conspire to result in a radically altered World, free of crime, violence and treachery in the face of impending doom. The basic precept can be summed up by the clamly phrase thus "Good information = Increased crime... Perfect information = No crime".

Although I have reservations about the simplicity of this concept, evidence about the effects of good information on crime and war are encouraging. The rise of the internet and video phones everywhere has considerable curtailed certain types of crime/war. New crimes that rely on this new technology have risen as well, but arguably, these new crimes have less scope to be as organised to be destructive to society as the old ones were.

My two objections existing from before I read the novel remain even given the assumptions of possibility within the book:
1) Perfect information is impossible. At the margin the limit of the speed of light will mean that one person will be able to know and react to something before another, and "first-mover advantage" will always be relevant and a source of moral hazard. Even the amazing technology of perfect vision of past and current events evident in the novel doesn't meet, say, the perfection of knowledge attributable to a higher being. The utopian vision, however, makes this point moot, as the available information becomes as good as it needs to be.
2) Both commerce and organised crime rely on an imbalance of information to some extent. If a customer knows as much as a supplier of a product, suppliers will not be able to make a reliable profit. At the margins, this could be considered criminal exploitation, but practically all profitable commerce relies heavily on trade secrets if not outright intellectual property. Not to mention the issue of electronic commerce if secure keys cannot be kept secure enough for people to trust it as a store of value.

5 comments:

Chris Fellows said...

I don't know if we took quite the same things away from the book- I don't see it as ever achieving utopia, even in the final Anastasis stage. What impressed me was the necessity for radical decriminalisation and (even though I know it isn't a word) deobscenification of vast swathes of human activity once it sunk in that *everything* you did was seen and recorded. Can you imagine a world in which our current traffic laws were actually applied every time an offense was committed? Our cities would be starving in days as 99% of truck drivers lost their licenses immediately.

Marco said...

I don't see it as ever achieving utopia

A world free of crime and private inhibitions, perfect information about past and present, and finally able to dispatch impending doom and to resurrect all past lives? Where is the lack of Utopia?

Can you imagine a world in which our current traffic laws were actually applied every time an offense was committed?

I have thought about this at length. The technology is available now that could be installed into every car to actually do that. I imagine a Taxi meter style fining system for speeding (including an audible alarm). Black spot detection could outright prevent speeding around those sections. Mini-fines would just be added to the toll road charge system. It's all just a matter of playing the numbers right. In the implementation stage, those fitted with the system would get savings from registration etc. Bigger fines/points losses could then be concentrated on the more serious infringements.

Marco said...

Just because laws will have trouble keeping up with the technology,doesn't mean they will become irrelevant.

Chris Fellows said...

I'm saying we will are likely to have a much more relevant set of laws that are easier for people to abide by, if we have a significantly improved flow of information.

(The quote 'Perfect information = No crime' is from the epigraph to a story by Charles Linebarger aka Cordwainer Smith, so I cannot claim it as a clamly phrase.)

Marco said...

I thought the book wouldn't change me in this regard... but it has. Improved information flow will revolutionise lawmaking and policing to such an extent that it will embarrass all those destined to sort out the mess. I don't hold out much hope that anybody much will be contented with the resulting creative destruction.